Louie, Your Reputation Precedes You

IMG_3098If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know Louie has a habit of whining when he sees his pals. You can hear him all the way down the street. People will turn and wait as Louie’s whines get louder and his tail wags faster. He’ll run towards the person or one of his furry friends. He excitedly greets them and then BOOM! He’s on to the next friend.

People know he’s going to do that to them. They watch him run and hear his excitement and after a few doggie sniffs he quickly moves on. My neighbors fully expect him to behave this way because they’ve witnessed this so many times. And now it’s the talk of the neighborhood…how snooty little Louie DiStasi can be.

I make excuses and justify his behavior by saying things like, “He’s very focused on his walk,” or “Don’t take it personal, he’s anxious to keep moving.” It is obvious his reputation clearly precedes him as we walk through the neighborhood.

This behavior has me ponder the importance of our reputations. It is much harder to build a reputation than to destroy it. Building a good reputation requires patience, solid values, intentionality and time. Destroying a good reputation only requires a single moment’s mistake. To build a good reputation, be a person who is worthy of one. Demonstrate the characteristics you want others to associate with you.

I had the honor and pleasure to work with Ken Blanchard in early 2000. During a Lead Like Jesus workshop in 2001, he shared a memorable exercise that left an indelible imprint on my mind and heart.

Ken told a story about Swedish chemist Alfred Bernhard Nobel, who invented dynamite in 1866 and became rich. Nobel was as interested in drama and poetry as he was in chemistry and physics, but it was in the sciences that he made his fame, and by the time of his death he held more than 350 patents and controlled factories and labs in 20 countries.

When Alfred Nobel’s brother died a newspaper mistakenly published an obituary of Alfred that emphasized the fact that he had invented things that blew up and killed people. Nobel, not wanting to be remembered in that way, pledged his wealth toward the betterment of humanity. In his will he directed the establishment of a foundation to award annual prizes for achievement in chemistry, physics, literature, and efforts toward international peace, which is known as the Nobel Prize. This award is considered one of the most prestigious awards in the world and includes a cash prize of nearly one million dollars.

Ken asked,What do you want your obituary to say about you?” He had the participants write out their thoughts. And then he asked, “What do you have to do today to be the person you want to be remembered as?”

That exercise had a profound effect on me then and still does today. I don’t want to be gone and people have to drum up something about me being a compassionate and deeply caring person. I commit to living out those characteristics today.

I encourage you to do the exercise Ken has had so many people around the world engage in doing: write your own obituary. Take time to figure out how you want to be remembered and then commit to being that person today!

As for Louie, it may be too late. It seems his reputation precedes him and not in a good way. We’ll have to continue to work on his relational skills and how he engages with others. Stay tuned!

**Louie and I hope you and your family will join us in remembering the countless men and women who have fought for our country. Give thanks for those who have given their lives and always thank a veteran and those currently serving!**

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Louie is Afraid of Big, Black Dogs!

Louie and I just finished our first night of training and much to my surprise he was a superstar. In fact, the trainer took him to the middle of the arena and practiced with him as the model dog. I was shocked and wished I could have grabbed my phone to take a picture. At first, he was a little apprehensive when she took hold of his leash but as soon as she circled him around to face me, he performed like a champ. He trotted in grand style, sat when he was told to sit, and did everything he and I practiced over the last week. I was amazed.

Something strange happened at the end of our training time. There was a very high level of energy in the facility while other groups of dogs were coming in as the previous class disbanded. Louie immediately picked up on this. He became very anxious and started a very low soft growl at the large black lab he had stood next to all night long. I immediately responded by correcting him and removed him from the ring. Crisis averted! We trotted off and headed for home.

This reminded me of something I’ve noticed about Louie. He seems very fearful of large black or dark brown dogs. I recognize this may be due to an aggressive stand the other dog may take toward him. But there are a few large black or chocolate labs who frighten Louie even if they are just walking with their owners. Sometimes, if the dog locks eyes with Lou he will take on a macho attitude and act like he’s tougher than he looks.

I’m not sure where this comes from except that Louie has a very good memory. He remembers the cat from whom he took a beating; he remembers a man and cigar smoke because a neighbor walks his dogs while smoking cigars and Louie has a very strong reaction to the smell even when the man is nowhere in sight. So some time in his past, Louie must have had a negative experience with a large black dog.

There are a couple exceptions to this fear. There is a large dark brown Doberman down the street named Rowan who is really good friends with Louie. They love to romp around with each other. Louie is so short, he fits right underneath Rowan, but apparently neither one of them have noticed. While the power of relationships is not a new phenomenon to me, I realize how important relationships are in helping dogs overcome their fears of other dogs. Much like humans, dogs remember things that frighten them or make them uncomfortable. And they will react with fear or anxiety the next time they encounter a similar situation.

When Louie first met Rowan, I sensed this might happen. However, to change that reaction, I asked Rowan’s dad if Louie could check him out. He was more than happy to have Rowan sit so we could approach him very slowly and cautiously. Louie clearly sensed that Rowan was not an aggressive dog, and consequently they became friends.

This tendency to react strongly and often unconsciously to others is also typical of humans. Sometimes experiences have made us apprehensive of certain kinds of people—right or wrong. Unlike dogs, though, humans are easily taught not to trust or like another, and that message stays with us for a lifetime.

Unfortunately, those prejudices prevent us from building authentic relationships with people purely based on a bad experience with one person or what we have been wrongly taught over the years. Our world continues to witness the damage prejudging others has caused. And while it may seem almost too simple, being intentional about building relationships will dispel wrongful thoughts. It takes strength to not allow prejudices to control us or direct our actions and it takes courage to get out of our comfort zone.

Once Louie has an opportunity to get to know a dog of whom he might normally be frightened, he relaxes and starts to build a relationship. Now if I can just get him to drop the tough macho act, we’ll be making real progress.










Watch Louie and his pal Rowan!

Read Steppin’ Out Of My Skin: Dispel Prejudices, Embrace the Power of Relationships

“Racial relations in America continue to be one of the country’s most challenging issues. Applause goes to Danise DiStasi for highlighting what an enormous block prejudice is and for suggesting ways it can be transmuted. Read and learn!”

Ken Blanchard, co-author of The One Minute Manager and The On Time, On Target Manager



Leaders Encourage Others To Dream

One chilly Saturday afternoon, Louie and I were enjoying our favorite things – I was writing, and Louie was napping. As I watched Louie, I noticed he was dreaming. But this was not his usual dream where his legs twitch, and I shake him awake. Instead, his legs were moving in slow motion – almost like he was running gracefully. And rather than his usual abbreviated breaths, he breathed deeply and looked like he was smiling. I watched for several minutes as he kept “running.” For a brief moment, I was standing on the sideline watching my pup with a long sleek body and long stretched out legs running gracefully around the track as I yelled his name while he neared the finish line. I could hear the theme from Chariots of Fire playing in the background. I dared not wake him because he clearly was enjoying the dream.

This reminded me of another runner named Louie, whom I recently read about—Louie Zamperini. You’ve perhaps seen the recent movie or at least heard about his story depicted in Unbroken. I read the book first because I think my imagination is better than a Hollywood replication. Though I have yet to see the movie, I understand it is excellent. Louie began his life with very little hope. He was a petty thief and well on his way to a dead-end life of crime. But his older brother saw him run and realized that running might be Louie’s way out of his circumstances. Louie ultimately competed in the Olympics held in Munich. He set his sights on the next Olympic Games, determined to bring home the gold medal. But all that changed when WWII broke out. It was during those dark days of first being lost at sea for more than a month and then held prisoner by the Japanese that he began to dream. His dreams actually kept him alive: he remembered what it was like to run and win a race; he dreamed about the next Olympics; he recalled the scent and flavor of his mother’s pasta; and he encouraged his fellow prisoners to dream as well.

The human spirit cannot be easily broken, but at times it takes something beyond our own capabilities to dream what may seem impossible. As we begin a new year with a clean slate, we may be tempted to be discouraged by dreams that started with a “what if” and faded into a “maybe someday.” We must renew our passions and revisit our dreams if we want them fulfilled.

I dreamt long ago of being a writer. In fact, in 7th grade I gave my sister a book of poems only to take them back because I wanted to improve upon them. I’ve written many stories and worked on projects in my younger days and realized my dream of writing a book could come true. So I started to take the steps to learn how to write well. And as in any story, there’s a villain! A dream slayer; someone who does not want you to realize your dream. They mean well, I suppose. My dream slayer was someone who was incredibly critical of many things, but especially my writing. I am not talking about constructive feedback—we all need that in our lives. This person looked for ways to criticize my writing and then let everyone else know about a mistake I made.

Another dream slayer is our own self-doubt. As the dream begins to formulate and take shape, our minds tell us, “You could never do that,” or “You’re not that good; no one wants to read your writing.” But we have the power to change our thoughts and do away with doubt altogether.

I’ve also been blessed by people who cast vision for me; those who planted the seeds of a dream before I even saw it. They recognized a talent and passion and encouraged me to follow that dream. One of those people was Ken Blanchard, who loved my book ideas, and eventually endorsed them. I am so thankful he encouraged me to take the next step in realizing my dream. Thankfully, the people who have encouraged my dreams outnumber the ones who have tried to slay them. And similar to Eric Liddell when he referred to running in his famous quote from Chariots of Fire, I truly believe I feel God’s pleasure when I write.

As leaders, we must be intentional about seeing the talent and passion in others and encourage them to pursue their dreams. Louie Zamperini held onto his dreams and had hope for a better day. That was all he could hold on to, and it helped him survive grueling, inhumane circumstances. We all need to dream and reach beyond our capabilities as it says in one of my favorite verses, “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” Beware of the dream slayers on your journey. They will disappear as you take the next action step in realizing your dream.

My little Louie finally woke up from his afternoon nap. As his tongue rolled out of his mouth, punctuating a huge yawn, he looked at his paws stretched out in front of him. He looked up at me as if to say, “Mom, I think my legs are just a bit longer, don’t you?”

I just shook my head and smiled.